The works of one of America’s ground-breaking writers will be coming to life at the ACT in Maple Ridge this weekend.
Actress Melody Johnson will be taking on the role of Shirley Jackson, described by the New Yorker as one of the 20th century’s most tortured writers, in Letters, Leftovers And The Lottery: The Writing of Shirley Jackson.
Johnson said she had previously worked on a couple of different one-person shows, and she was looking for another project, when her friend, Allen Cole, who performs piano for the play, ordered a book about Jackson. They both started reading up on the author together at the same time and decided to collaborate on a show together, something they have done in the past.
Johnson said she enjoys this role because she is able to explore both sides – the short performance aspects where she gets to sit and act, and the challenge of sitting at a desk with a typewriter where she has to play along with the piano. As well as the reading side, where she is telling a story simply at a music stand.
Jackson was best known for her fiction in horror and mystery and her short story, The Lottery, is considered a Gothic classic.
Born in 1916 in San Francisco, California, Jackson’s work includes The Road Through The Wall, Life Among the Savages, and The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle – considered to be two of the greatest psychological thrillers of the 20th century.
Jackson died in 1965.
Johnson and Canadian composer Allen Cole, work together to tell Jackson’s story in this one-act show – detailing the horror the author would see in everyday families and community, including an evocative retelling of The Lottery, a tale about the sinister underside of a pastoral, rural American town.
Based out of Toronto, Johnson received her bachelor of fine arts from York University, and has since performed right across the country, receiving numerous awards and accolades.
Cole is originally from Nova Scotia and has worked as a composer, musical director, lyricist and/or book writer on many musical theatre productions. He has also won numerous awards for his work including four Dora awards, and a Best Film Score Award from the Atlantic Film Festival.
He noted that the concept of the show that there is another side to Jackson’s writing that is not spooky and scary, but it’s much lighter and more family-based stories.
“Sort of comic tellings of her as a (19)50’s housewife bringing up children,” he said.
For the play Cole drew on music that was popular during that period in time. In addition, Jackson, herself, enjoyed music and frequently spoke about music, as was evident to Cole in her biography and in her letters. Her son even went on to become a jazz musician.
There’s some Bach in the production from The Goldberg Variations, an extremely popular record put out by Glenn Gould in the 1950’s, said Cole, in addition to various cool jazz sounding music. There is even a Christmas song because one of the stories takes place during that time of year.
The music suits the mood of the moment – some lighter and some darker – but they are also intended to evoke the 1950’s and early 1960’s, he added.
“It was music Shirley Jackson liked, and she enjoyed.”
Letters, Leftovers And The Lottery: The Writing of Shirley Jackson takes place at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, in the Mainstage Theatre at the ACT Arts Centre, 11944 Haney Place, Maple Ridge.
To purchase tickets call 604-476-2787 or go to theactmapleridge.org/letters-leftovers-and-lottery.
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